Billy Peard's position as staff attorney with a nonprofit legal aid organization requires an immersive approach to practicing law.
Representing mostly undocumented immigrants who work on Massachusetts farms and in other seasonal industries, Peard JD'13 is steeped in their cultures, communities and workplaces.
"Before long, you learn who is related to whom and who has an ancient rivalry with whom," says Peard, who works at Central West Justice Center in Springfield, Mass. "Along with knowing Spanish, knowing the subtleties of the relationships and the social mores of the community becomes key."
Peard's education at VLS underscored the importance of community.
"Being in South Royalton allowed me to get to know the local community in a way that perhaps I would not have done at a larger school or in a larger town," he says. "The experience at VLS helped keep me focused on the notion that lawyering is, at its core, a people business."
People come first in his work.
One case involved about 20 Mexican clients who had been significantly underpaid for their work on a U.S. farm. Peard and a colleague traveled to Mexico and drove for hours on winding back roads deep in the country to find their clients' homes. Ultimately, they recovered a lot of money for the clients. But the lawyers benefited, too.
"Nothing could have been better than the opportunity to bring the case to our clients and to spend several days soaking up the sights and smells of my clients' home villages," Peard says.
He nimbly bridges cultures and worlds—talking with prosecutors and social workers one minute, and the next, meeting with a Guatemalan client who needs assistance with the elevator at his office because she has never seen one.
Peard has initiated a plan to create Massachusetts' first statewide migrant legal aid program to address the unique legal needs of indigent farmworkers.
He has represented clients who earn as little as $4 an hour against a multimillion-dollar company. "What excites me about what I do is the opportunity to give folks their proverbial day in court," he says. "I relish the David-and-Goliath nature of my work."